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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Repairing Floors

Floors have to put up with a lot, and it’s not surprising that occasionally cracks or missing portions appear. These can be a hazard to you and your guests, so the quicker you fix the damage, the better.

Wood floor repairs mainly call for skills with carpentry tools and glue. Resilient flooring repairs can be even simpler, requiring not much more than a sharp utility knife and the proper adhesive. No matter what the type of flooring, you might do well to have a knee pad (mentioned in Chapter 1, "Getting Ready") because even a resilient flooring can feel hard to knees after a few minutes.

The following sections explain how to handle a number of common repairs for both wood and resilient flooring. As always, I’ll give you a list of necessary tools and materials with each set of repair instructions, but the following descriptions explain how you’ll be using these tools and materials in the repairs:

  • Pry bar—This small prying bar is good for prying up pieces of damaged flooring. Pry bars are good for many other uses as well, including prying open stuck windows.

  • Carpenter’s wood glue—Although common white glue is good for many wood-on-wood joints, yellow carpenter’s glue is formulated specially for wood and comes in interior and exterior types—the latter is better for resistance to moisture. Both white and yellow glue require that you apply pressure to the glued pieces, so the glue will work into the wood’s pores.

  • Rubber gloves—Sturdy rubber gloves protect your skin from chemicals in floor adhesives.

  • Knee pads or kneeling pad—Why torture your knees by kneeling on a hard floor surface? A little knee protection will make your worktime seem much more pleasant.

  • Mastic—Adhesive for resilient flooring is spread with a putty knife or a notched trowel. The adhesive should be matched to the type of flooring and the underlayment, the boards on which resilient and tile flooring is laid. A flooring dealer will be able to tell you the correct type of mastic for the kind of work you have in mind.

  • Toothed or notched trowel—These come in various widths and are always used by flooring professionals to spread adhesives. Notched trowels are a step above putty knives for the amateur because they allow for a more even distribution of adhesive to the subsurface and wood, tile, or resilient flooring pressed to the subsurface. Notched trowels are available with metal blades, but plastic disposable ones are available for a dollar or less.

Repairing Hardwood Floors

Because wood is made of grain running in a single direction, it is not uncommon for wood to splinter. Dropped objects, high heels, pushed chair legs, and more can prompt a part of a floorboard to dislodge from the grain below. Such splinters for a time remain attached at one end to the floorboard, but later they can become detached entirely; they should be refastened in the first stage. But even if wholly detached, they can be glued back into place so long as they are preserved generally in tact.

Repairing Splinters

If a floorboard begins to splinter, repair it sooner rather than later.

Things You'll Need

  • Utility knife

  • Carpenter's wood glue

  • Waxed paper and flat heavy object

  • Damp cloth or paper towel

  1. Use the blade point of a utility knife to pry up the portion of the splinter that is unattached to the grain below.

  2. Squeeze some wood glue under the splinter.

  3. Press the splinter back down, and wipe the area with a damp, not soaking, cloth or paper towel—the glue is water-based.

  4. Place waxed paper over the repair and a heavy object over both. Leave the weight and the waxed paper overnight.

  5. The next day, remove the weight and paper and lightly sand the repair.

Keep wood glue handy; it saves trouble when a splinter comes up from a wooden floor to have the glue around for a quick fix.

Repairing a Floorboard

If a whole section of floorboard is ruined, it can be replaced. Unfortunately, floorboards do not come up easily; they are designed and installed to stay in place. Floorboards connect using tongue-and-groove joints; one edge has a groove and the other a tongue so that the floorboards lock together when joined side by side. When a floorboard becomes irreparably damaged, however, you can cut out and replace the damaged sections.

The following instructions assume a subfloor beneath the finished flooring pieces. In the rare instance you drill your first hole and do not find a subfloor, remove the piece of wood at your drawn lines. Then with a flashlight and tape measure, probe until you find the location of the joists on either side of the removed piece. Remove flooring back to the middle of these joists and cut a piece to fill this exact space. See the Pro’s Tip following the instructions for more information.

Things You'll Need

  • Utility knife

  • Drill and a 1/2'' spade bit

  • Old wood chisel and hammer

  • Pry bar

  • Replacement board

  • Miter box and saw

  • Several 2 1/2'' finishing nails (if no subflooring)

  • Nail set

  • Colored wax wood repair stick

  1. Draw straight lines across the board on either end of the damage. The lines must be at least 6’’ apart and no closer than 1’’ to the damage. If one line is to be within 16’’ of the end of the floorboard, just remove all of the floorboard from the damage to the end.

  2. Wear eye protection. Drill along the lines all the way through the floorboard to the subfloor so that each drilled hole just touches the damaged side of the line and its neighboring hole.

  3. Use a hammer and old but sharpened chisel to cut down along the drawn lines, as shown in Figure 3.10.

  4. Figure 3.10

    Figure 3.10 Use a sharp wood chisel to cut down through the floorboard along the marked lines, being sure the beveled side of the chisel faces in toward the damaged area.

  5. Use the hammer and chisel to make lengthwise cuts along the damaged floorboard from one set of drilled holes to the other. This should splinter the floorboard enough to allow you to remove the pieces. If the pieces do not come out easily, use a pry bar to pry them out.

  6. Clear out all the damaged piece, being sure to also remove the tongue that is set in the groove of the adjacent floorboard and the damaged wood from around the tongue of the floorboard on the opposite side. Vacuum out the small pieces.

  7. Measure the length of the opening and cut a replacement piece to fit. Use a miter box and back saw if available to ensure a straight cut on each end.

  8. Clamp the replacement piece upside down to a workbench. To fit the replacement board in place, you need to remove the bottom lip of the grooved side. Use a straightedge and utility knife to score along a line where the lower lip of the groove meets the main portion of the replacement floorboard.

  9. With a hammer and chisel, make starter cuts on the scored line all along the replacement floorboard’s length. Then go back and make deeper cuts until the lower lip of the groove falls off.

  10. Apply glue to the tongue and groove of the replacement board and to its bottom. Slip the tongue of the replacement board into the groove of the adjacent floorboard and lower the groove portion onto the tongue of the board on the opposite side (see Figure 3.11). If the replacement board does not want to go in, place a small block of wood on top of the floorboard and tap it with a hammer to force the replacement board into position.

  11. Wipe away excess glue with a damp cloth or paper towel.

Figure 3.11

Figure 3.11 Insert the replacement piece at an angle so its tongue slides into the groove of the adjacent floorboard. Let the other side fall into place—this works because you have cut away the lower lip of the replacement board groove.

If your flooring does not have a subfloor, you cannot make your repair cuts anywhere you want; you need to be sure your replacement floorboard extends over two flooring joists, so you can nail the new piece into the joists. Replace the damaged floorboard from the end nearest the damage (the end of a board will always be over the middle of a joist) to a line 16’’ (or 32’’ or 48’’) away, depending on the extent of damage and the spacing of your floor joists. This line should align with the center of a 1 1/2’’ wide floor joist below.

For this kind of repair you need 2 1/2’’ finishing nails as well as glue. Following step 10 of the preceding list, nail through the replacement board, using two nails for each joist. Use a nail set (a small punch used with a hammer to sink nail heads) to set the nail heads below the wood’s surface. Fill the depression above the sunken nail head with a wax stick that approximates the color of the wood flooring—such sticks are sold for furniture repair.

Repairing Resilient Flooring

Resilient flooring is of two types: tile and sheet flooring. Tiles go down as individual units, whereas sheet flooring goes down in room-sized sheets. Early resilient floorings were made of linoleum (a linseed oil/wood fiber/felt composition) and asphalt (used for tiles). Modern resilient flooring—both tile and sheet—are much more likely to be pure vinyl or vinyl-composites, although linoleum and asphalt remain available (and are once again popular choices).

Although resilient flooring is tough, its surface can be cut, burned, or otherwise marred. In addition, the adhesive holding it down can fail. Tiles can curl up at the corners, and sheet flooring can bubble up.

Most homeowners or professional flooring installers save extra tiles or scraps of resilient flooring whenever they install a new floor covering. That’s a good way to ensure that you’ll have matching material to repair future damage. But you can buy replacement tiles and sheet flooring sections from flooring stores. Remember that existing flooring can look different from what it did when new, owing to wax build-up, long exposure to sunlight, and foot traffic.

When preparing to repair damage to any resilient flooring, be sure to have the proper adhesive for your flooring type. Go to a flooring dealer and describe as best you can the kind of flooring you have and its likely age. Salespeople there can recommend an appropriate adhesive and, for large repairs, tools for applying it.

Repairing a Hole, Dent, or Scratch

Often resilient flooring damage is small and needs only touch-up work. The following repair can work on vinyl and linoleum.

Things You'll Need

  • Utility knife

  • Piece of matching tile

  • Piece of paper and a shallow container

  • Clear fingernail polish

  • Putty knife

  1. Use a knife to trim around the damaged area, cutting back to undamaged material. Clean out the space.

  2. Place strips of masking tape around the edges of the hole to protect the undamaged flooring surrounding the damaged area.

  3. Take a matching piece of flooring—old or new—and bend it into an arc over a piece of paper or cardboard, with the top surface of the flooring facing outward. Scrape this surface with a knife and catch the powder-like scrapings on a sheet of paper (see Figure 3.12). Pour the powder into a shallow container.

  4. Apply clear fingernail polish one drop at a time to the powdered scrapings to make a thick paste. With a putty knife, work the paste into the damaged area.

  5. Figure 3.12

    Figure 3.12 Fold a spare piece of flooring good side out and scrape at it with a knife blade. Catch the scrapings on a piece of paper.

  6. Spread a top coat of fingernail polish over the repair and let it dry.

  7. Remove the masking tape. Smooth the patch with fine steel wool.

  8. Apply one more coat of fingernail polish and let the repair dry.

Resealing a Sheet Flooring Edge

In large rooms, more than one section of sheet flooring can be used. They meet at seams. If the edges of the flooring become loose at the seams, you can glue them down again, following these steps.

Things You'll Need

  • Putty knife

  • Knife

  • Rubber gloves

  • Sheet flooring adhesive recommended for your kind of flooring and underlayment type, and solvent for this kind of adhesive

  • Several cloths

  • Straight board

  • Heavy weight

  1. With a putty knife, lift up the loosened edge. With a knife, scrape away old adhesive from the underlayment (supporting wood base) and underside of the sheet flooring.

  2. Wearing rubber gloves, raise the loose edge with a putty knife and, with another putty knife, spread the adhesive onto the underlayment.

  3. The adhesive needs to set for a short period of time before being pressed in place, as recommended on the adhesive can’s label. Wait the appropriate amount of time and then press the loose edge down. Wipe up oozing adhesive with a damp cloth.

  4. Place a clean cloth along the repaired edge. Lay a flat board on the cloth and a weight (such as a full paint can) on the board. Leave these in place until the adhesive dries (check for the duration on the adhesive can’s label).

If scraping at the adhesive is not doing the job, you can buy commercial floor cleaner from a flooring dealer. Tell the dealer what kind of floor you have and the color of your old adhesive. You can apply the cleaner undiluted with an old toothbrush, wipe up the residue with a cloth, and then throw away the cloth. Let the area dry before going to step 2 in the preceding list of steps.

Deflating a Blister

Occasionally, sheet flooring loosens away from the underlayment and thus forms a sort of blister in mid-floor. You can reseal the blistered area to make the flooring smooth again.

Things You'll Need

  • Utility knife

  • Metal straight edge

  • Sheet flooring adhesive recommended for your kind of sheet flooring

  1. Using a metal straight edge (such as one from a combination square) and a utility knife, make a straight cut all the way through the center of the blister of the sheet flooring from one end of it to the other.

  2. Press the edges flat. If they overlap, trim a portion of one away until there is no overlap.

  3. Glue down both edges, using the same procedure as in the section "Resealing a Sheet Flooring Edge."

If you have a number of blisters that are smaller than 3 square inches or such small blisters reoccur in your floor, you can buy a tool used by professionals to repair these areas. This tool is a type of syringe with a metal needle for injecting flooring adhesive underneath the surface of resilient flooring. You insert the needle into the sheet flooring blister (best at a dark line or pattern) and squeeze adhesive into place. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the amount of adhesive, but generally use 1/4 oz. of adhesive for every square inch of blister. Wipe up oozing adhesive and then cover it with a cloth and heavy weight.

Replacing a Tile

Sometimes the damage is so bad you want to replace a whole tile, or several tiles. To do so, follow these steps.

Things You'll Need

  • Work gloves

  • Utility knife or linoleum knife

  • Heat gun or hair dryer; or an iron and old towel

  • White paper

  • Replacement tiles

  • Appropriate adhesive for the tile material and putty knife or trowel for spreading the adhesive

  • Rags and solvent appropriate for the adhesive

  • Two boards, longer than the width of the tile

  • Heavy weights

  1. Wearing work gloves, make a cut all the way through the tile from top to bottom about 1’’ from one edge.

  2. Turn the heat gun on at the low setting and move it up and down along the cut to soften the tile and the adhesive below it. If you do not have a heat gun, cut the tile through with two diagonal cuts corner to corner. Then place an old towel at the center and use an iron set on low on top of the towel.

  3. Remove the source of heat and work a putty knife into the cut. Peel back the tile and apply more heat as needed. Pry up all parts of the tile.

  4. Test the adhesive that is left on the underlayment by rubbing white paper on it. If the stain is a dark brown, the adhesive might contain asbestos. See the caution in the sidebar "Take Care when Replacing Asbestos Flooring."

  5. If the adhesive is a non-asbestos-containing kind, use the putty knife to scrape up as much as possible. If you see any protruding nail heads, use a hammer and nail set to set them flush—or slightly under—the top surface of the underlayment.

  6. If the tile is the self-adhesive type, set the replacement tile into the cleaned space now.

  7. If not, wear rubber gloves and spread on the underlayment an adhesive appropriate for the tile. Use a notched trowel if you have one. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for allowing the adhesive to set up. Avoid getting adhesive on the tops of adjacent tiles; if you do, wipe it away quickly.

  8. Hold one edge of the replacement tile against one edge of a tile bordering the repair and carefully allow the replacement tile to drop into place, as shown in Figure 3.13. Press down along the edges of the tile to seal it in place.

  9. Lay two boards—longer than the new tile—across the new tile. Place weights on the boards and leave them for as long as the manufacturer says the adhesive needs to dry.

If you cannot find a replica tile at a store, consider taking one from a closet or from under a refrigerator if the floor is in a kitchen. You can replace the one you have taken from this hidden area with another of the same thickness—no one is likely to see the mismatch.

Repairing Sheet Flooring

Replacing a section of damaged sheet flooring is similar to replacing a resilient floor tile (refer to "Replacing a Tile"). The difference is that you in effect create your own replacement tile.

Figure 3.13

Figure 3.13 Position one edge of the replacement tile along the edge of one adjacent to the prepared opening. Let the tile fall into place.

Use adhesive recommended by the manufacturer of the sheet flooring. Ventilate the workspace and wear rubber gloves to protect your skin from adhesive.

Things You'll Need

  • Cloth

  • A section of replacement flooring

  • Utility knife

  • Masking tape

  • Rubber gloves

  • Adhesive recommended by the sheet flooring manufacturer

  • Notched trowel and putty knife

  • Piece of plywood

  • Weights

  1. Cut a piece of replacement flooring larger than the area of the damage, but larger than a 9’’-x-9’’ tile.

  2. Exactly align the pattern of the replacement piece to the sheet flooring below and use masking tape to tape the replacement piece to the flooring.

  3. Use a sharp utility knife to cut through the replacement piece and into the flooring below (see Figure 3.14), cutting along pattern lines as much as you can, while still cutting beyond the area of damage in the original flooring. Cut all the way through the flooring beneath the replacement piece until you feel underlayment.

  4. Figure 3.14

    Figure 3.14 When the replacement flooring is aligned and taped over the damaged flooring below, carefully cut through both pieces. This creates a replacement piece exactly matched to the flooring below that you will be removing

  5. Carefully remove the replacement piece and masking tape. Remove the section of sheet flooring within the four cuts you have made. If the section of sheet flooring seems firmly attached to the underlayment, try using the point of the utility knife blade to probe between the top of the sheet flooring and its manufactured backing (sheet flooring comes in layers of lamination). If the damage is limited to the top lamination and you can remove this top layer from the manufactured backing, proceed to steps 5 and 6. If the sheet flooring comes up whole from the underlayment, proceed to step 7.

  6. If the top seems to be coming up and the damage does not go all the way to the underlayment, pull the top of the damaged section all the way up, thus delaminating it and leaving its backing firmly attached to the underlayment.

  7. Delaminate the replacement piece by using adhesive to glue the bottom of the replacement flooring to an old piece of plywood. When the adhesive is set, use a utility knife to lift the top of the flooring off its backing. Proceed to step 8.

  8. Clean away all the old adhesive from the underlayment.

  9. Wear rubber gloves. Then, preferably with a notched trowel, spread adhesive into the area for the replacement piece. Allow the adhesive to set up according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

  10. Lower the replacement piece into position. Wipe away any oozing adhesive with a damp cloth.

  11. Place a cloth over the patch and a flat piece of plywood over the cloth. Place a weight on the plywood until the adhesive is dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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